Sleep Less, Eat More? Research Suggests Link Between Sleep, Eating Habits

Ahh, sleep. We all know it’s important. But when we are stressed or busy, sometimes it’s the first thing to fall by the wayside. New research suggests that lack of sleep doesn’t just make us cranky, it may also increase our calorie consumption.

The correlation between lack of sleep and obesity is already well established. But a recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests links between lack of sleep and some specific behaviors that can lead to obesityin this case: increased time spent eating and drinking.

The researchers, led by Gabriel S. Tajeu, DrPH, analyzed results from 28,150 American adults ages 21 to 65 who were participants in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). They compared sleep time with time spent engaged in primary and secondary eating or drinking. 

What is "secondary" eating or drinking? It means eating while doing something else, like reading, surfing the web or watching TV.

The findings, according to the lead researcher:

"Short sleep is associated with more time spent in secondary eating and, in particular, secondary drinking. This potentially suggests a pathway from short sleep to increased caloric intake in the form of beverages and distracted eating and thus potential increased obesity risk, although more research is needed."

Normal sleep was considered between 7 to 8 hours per night. Survey participants who reported short sleep (less than 7 hours a night) spent an average of 8.7 minutes more time engaging in secondary eating per day than those who reported normal sleep. The big difference came in the amount of time the short sleepers spent secondary drinking (beverages other than water), which was an extra 28.6 minutes per weekday and 31.28 minutes per day on weekends. 

As with all cross-sectional studies, this research can only show that short sleep and increased secondary eating and drinking are correlated, meaning that we still don’t know if short sleep causes increased secondary eating or drinking. Further research is needed to determine if these links are causal.

Whether you’re a big sleeper or a night owl, the results of this study are a good reminder of the importance of mindful and intentional eating. Eating while distracted, which can happen easily during a Netflix binge, may lead you to eat more than you intended. Slow down, savor your food, and be mindful of portion sizes. This can help you manage your calorie consumption and your weight.

Remember, good health is all about taking care of yourself.  Sleep is an important part of the equation.